Tillie and Gus (1933)

“I’ll bend every effort to win this race, and I come from a long line of effort benders!” The great W.C. Fields teams up with Alison Skipworth as the title characters in this hilarious romp that involves the divorced couple (the “Winterbottoms,” a pair of old-school con artists!) reuniting to help out their niece, “Mary Sheridan” (Julie Bishop), who’s being cheated out of her inheritance by sleazy lawyer “Phineas Pratt” (Clarence Wilson). The only property Sheridan has inherited so far is a rundown steamboat, the Fairy Queen, where she lives with her husband “Tom” (Phillip Trent) and baby “King” (Baby LeRoy). The craziness culminates with a chaotic steamboat race between the Fairy Queen and rival Keystone for rights to a ferry franchise. My favorite scene is when Gus goes underwater in a diving suit to sabotage the other steamboat. I also enjoy the banter between Gus and “Commissioner McLennan” (Barton MacLane): “The boat was launched in eighteen hundred and eighty-one” … “So was my wife, but she’s still sea-worthy” … “She’s probably got barnacles all over her. The boat I mean” … “She’s as solid as a brick telephone booth.” Directed by Francis Martin, Tillie and Gus was based on the short story Don’t Call Me Madame by Rupert Hughes. According to legend, it was on the set of Tillie and Gus where Fields notoriously spiked Baby LeRoy’s juice bottle with gin.

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